Best of the Weekend: Reds & Crusaders to meet in the final.

Reds bruise the Blues to reach first final for 16 years

The Queensland Reds resurgence continued on Saturday morning as they took apart the Auckland Blues for the second time this season at Suncorp Stadium, with a Rod Davies hat-trick seeing the home side through to the final on the back of a 30-13 win.

The Blues looked sharp in the opening stages but failed to make the most of their attacking options, and forced the play when Lachie Munro threw a pass that was picked off by Rod Davies, who sprinted in from 70 metres. Those of you you’ve seen Super Rugby over the last few years will know that once Davies is away, no one will catch him. Davies’ other two tries were solid efforts that will no doubt have helped his cause for a Wallaby wing slot at the World Cup with Drew Mitchell’s recovery still uncertain, and rightly so.

The Reds were boosted massively by the return of Digby Ioane, Anthony Faingaa and Beau Robinson (right). Faingaa and Robinson are integral to the Reds defensive effort, and Faingaa along with Scott Higginbotham, James Horwill and Ben Tapuai all put in a great defensive effort that won’t have gone unnoticed by head coach Ewen McKenzie. Robinson’s return was evident in the Reds success at the breakdown, with the blond haired warrior constantly found to be making life strenuous for the Blues, and turning over good ball.

It was this defence that stopped the Blues’ big runners like substitute Rene Ranger, Benson Stanley, Munro and Joe Rokocoko, though Big Joe in his final game for the Blues looked incredibly pumped up throughout and worked his way out of many first time hits with the ball in hand. There were positives in the Blues pack in the shape of try scorer Chris Lowrey and openside Luke Braid, but the scoreline shows that overall they were outclassed.

The Reds now have the enormous psychological advantage of playing again at Suncorp next week, and the crowds speak for themselves. The attendance figures have been constantly on the rise in Brisbane over the last two years, a testament to the work Ewen McKenzie, who has now led his sides to three finals in the last seven years. With the dynamic duo of Will Genia and Quade Cooper running the show, along with home advantage, winning this year’s Championship looks like a reality.

The Crusaders head for their 10th final after victory at Newlands

The men from Canterbury scorched out of the blocks at the start of the semi-final in Cape Town, racing into a 23-3 lead with 30 minutes gone on the clock. It was a familiar story as Sonny Bill Williams busted through the tacklers and delivered the sweetest of offloads to his centre partner Robbie Fruean (right) for what would ultimately prove to be the decisive score of the match. That coupled with the way the Crusaders tight five bullied the home side at scrum time gave them not just the platform to attack, but the positioning for Dan Carter to knock over three points with ease in the Stormers half.

The home team had come into this game with the best defensive record in this year’s Super Rugby competition, but they gifted the Crusaders a head start when Nick Koster fed Crusaders flyer Sean Maitland for his eighth try of the season with a clumsy intercept pass. The Stormers did attempt to get back into the match in the first half with a clinical score from Bryan Habana. The former Blue Bulls winger has come under fire this season for not performing as well as in recent times, but his work rate has never dipped and this was evident in his opportunistic try from a tap penalty just five metres out from the Bulls line.

The Crusaders first half performance though proved too strong, and they will now head to Brisbane slightly jet-lagged to contest this year’s final against the Reds next Saturday.

Wins for Samoa and Tonga in the first round of the Pacific Nations Cup

Tonga pulled off a surprise result over neighbours Fiji in the first round of this year’s Pacific Nations Cup with a 45-21 victory. 20 points came from the boot of fly-half Kurt Horath while Tonga wrapped up five tries, including a penalty try to seal an impressive win. A side full of relatively unknown names in Europe, Tonga were not expected to defeat a Fijian side featuring the likes of veteran ex-Bristol fly half Nicky Little and Toulon’s Gabirlele Lovobalavu (try typing that from memory), and will be filled with confidence now ahead of their clash with Japan in Tokyo.

Leicester’s Alesana Tuilagi scored two tries as Samoa defeated Japan in the other match in Tokyo, as arguably the strongest island side won 34-15. The Samoans fielded well known names such as Sailosi Tagicakibau, George Pisi, Ti’i Paulo and George Stowers, and were lead by former London Irish centre Seilala Mapusua, with Newcastle’s Filipo Levi, Harlequins Maurice Fa’asavalu and new Sale signing Tasesa Lavea all on the bench. The favourites to win the competition, Samoa should also be a good bet to make the quarter-finals of the World Cup this autumn considering their capable pack and the amount of talent in their backline.

Try of the weekend goes to Rod ‘Rocket’ Davies for his second effort against the Blues at Suncorp (Watch it here). The Reds have scored some beauties off first phase ball this season, and this was right up there. The long lineout to Higginbotham gave Genia the space to hit Cooper with his pass, before the fly half launched a cracker into Rod Davies’ bread basket. We saw earlier in the match how quick he is in a straight line, but that kind of gas on the angle is special, which is exactly what he used as he arched his way through the Blues defensive line and over under the posts from about 30 metres out. Sensational speed.

This week’s Hero is that man Quade Cooper (right). Bob Skinstad in the other semi-final described Robbie Fruean’s score as the kind of rugby that keeps kids out of movies, but if that’s the case then Cooper’s performance on Saturday will mean they won’t consider any other extra curricular activities than rugby ever again. He may have been off with the boot, but his footwork was mind-blowing. The skills he showed for Ben Tapuai’s score; the pace, the hand off and the offload, were out of this world. He’s one of a kind.

The Villains for the week are Lachie Munro and Nick Koster from the Blues and Stormers respectively. Lesson learned fellas; never throw simple interception passes in big games. Ever.

That’s all for this week, stay tuned for all the build-up to the Super Rugby final this weekend right here on The Rugby Blog.

by Ben Coles

2 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Reds & Crusaders to meet in the final.

  1. Quade was brilliant yet again and the Crusaders were clinical. I think the Reds will win it this weekend but i thought the Stormers would beat the Crusaders and they weren’t even close so it’s tough to back against them. One thing the Reds don’t seem to have done recently is convert pressure into points. Their tries have been coming from individual brilliance and first-phase moves. If the ‘saders can really concentrate in open play they might stifle the Reds sufficiently. But that’s a tough ask.

    Honorable mention to Schalk Britz who got a full half for the Stormers and tried his heart out but couldn’t do enough to have an effect on the result.

  2. I thought Brits was very good – especially considering how bad the Stormers pack as a whole was.

    A couple of weeks ago I’d have said the Reds but Im not so sure now, I think the Crusaders are just too strong up front, too stong in defence and too clinical in attack.

    It should be a cracking game though. Cooper vs Carter – cant wait!!

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